Published in the Sun December 15, 2012
Lisa Davis loves her Leaf
Fellow eco-nerds with similar buying habits, Lisa Davis and I met at HEB stocking up on Seventh Generation recycled paper towels. Lisa had seen my column about driving my Nissan Leaf to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center (a trip former editor Ben Trollinger referred to as “Toad’s Wild Ride”) and introduced herself as a fellow Leaf driver. I asked if she has had adventures with electric driving, but she denied any drama. “It’s a regular car. People need to know that.” Her Leaf was a Christmas present last year, and the thrill has yet to wear off. An electric car is the ideal vehicle for driving around town. There are no tailpipe emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, or ozone to smog up our urban air. In addition to being good for the environment, Lisa loves her Leaf because it is loaded with amenities and big enough to hold her husband and two sons, all over 6 feet tall. The Leaf is quiet and smooth, but when she steps on the pedal it takes off like a rocket. Curious people ask her how fast it will go, but she doesn’t know. She’s had it up to 80 mph. She wonders if maybe I’ve gone faster, but alas, I am a boring driver.
Lisa admits that when she first got the Leaf she suffered from a bit of charge anxiety; the fear of running out of electricity before getting home. The first time she took the car to Austin, she stopped at the Nissan dealer in Round Rock and topped up her charge. She needn’t have worried; she had plenty of juice for the return trip. I have taken my Leaf to the Austin airport and back on one charge, but that is about the limit of range at highway speeds. Driving around town at 30 to 40 mph it will go 100 miles, but since people rarely drive 100 miles around town, it’s not really an issue. When you get home you just plug it in and charge up again.
The electricity to run the car costs about 2 ½ cents a mile. (Gasoline costs 8 to 20 cents a mile, depending on whether you drive a gas sipper or a gas hog.) No gasoline engine also means no oil changes. About the only maintenance required is rotating the tires. And cleaning the windshield. Lisa and I both noticed that when you never go to a filling station, your windshield gets really, really dirty.
A curious person, Lisa once tried to deliberately run down her battery, just to see what would happen. With about 8 miles of range left the dashboard started flashing warnings and the nice GPS lady offered directions to a charging station. If a careless driver ignores the warnings and keeps driving, the Leaf will eventually enter what is called “turtle mode,” in which speed and acceleration are limited for one last mile, allowing a safe exit off the road. Lisa tried to reach turtle mode in her neighborhood, driving round and round the block, but she got bored before the car ran out of charge. Finally she just drove into her garage and plugged it in. Sometimes she charges up at the Georgetown Recreation Center charging station, where the electricity is complimentary.
Lisa is sold on electric driving, but what about the general population? Jerry Crider, the electric vehicle specialist at Round Rock Nissan, told me that hesitation about the new technology is being overcome by an attractive new lease deal from Nissan. You can now lease a Leaf for 36 months with $2000 down and $249 a month. That is a pretty good deal considering it costs about $200 a month just to keep an SUV fueled up. A lease avoids the hefty purchase price of the Leaf, and after 3 years the customer can trade up to what will surely be new and improved electric technology. Jerry has leased four Leafs in the last month alone. So far nobody has come back to say they really prefer gasoline.
My next column will be about a delightful lady, Mary Griffith, who wanted to drive electrically but needed a car that could take her back and forth to Colorado.